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Defending Against A Public Intoxication Charge In Texas

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Defending Against A Public Intoxication Charge In Texas


In Texas, it is not a crime in itself to be intoxicated in public. Walking down the street after having drinks at a bar or restaurant, for example, does not open you up to a charge of public intoxication. Under Texas law (Texas Penal Code, Section 49.02), it is a criminal offense to appear in a public place “while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.” Thus, it is not illegal to be intoxicated in public, but if your actions or behaviors indicate a safety risk to yourself or other people, you could face criminal prosecution.

The penalty for public intoxication in Texas is a Class C Misdemeanor for adults over 21 years old, including fines of up to $500. For underage drinkers, the penalty is also a Class C Misdemeanor with a $500 fine, but can include additional penalties such as community service, driver’s license suspension, and alcohol awareness classes.

While the penalties may not seem significant for most, a conviction for public intoxication can be embarrassing at the very least, create issues applying for certain jobs, or could cause problems if you are charged for any other alcohol or drug-related offenses in the future.

What is “Intoxication” for Purposes of a Public Intoxication Charge?

Under Texas law, “intoxication” means:

  1. Not having the “normal use of mental or physical faculties” due to alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, or any combination thereof; or
  2. A blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

Either definition depends on evidence that can be subjective, easily manipulated, or flawed. Even a breathalyzer reading may not be accurate in some situations. It is important for anyone charged with public intoxication to realize it is not an “open and shut” case, and to assert their rights in the legal process.

Defenses to a Public Intoxication Charge

There may be a surprising number of defenses available to defendants in a public intoxication case. For example, under the Statue, it is a defense that a substance was administered for therapeutic purposes and as part of a professional course of medical treatment from a licensed physician.

Other defenses may include:

  • Not “intoxicated” within the legal definition under Texas law. What a law enforcement officer construed as intoxication, or lacking the “normal use” of mental or physical faculties, could have been something else. Often this may be supported by witness testimony. If a person has a disability or physical condition that may have contributed to an appearance of “intoxication”, this could be a defense too.
  • No endangerment to themselves or others. Perhaps the defendant had a few drinks and drew attention to themselves in a bad way. That doesn’t necessarily mean they risked endangerment to themselves, or to another person. The law requires not only mere intoxication, but some level of endangerment as well.
  • Not in a “public place”. Public intoxication requires that the defendant was drunk in public. If the alleged incident occurred in a private, non-public space they had a right to be in, this may provide a defense to the criminal charge.

Consult a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney to Review Your Rights in a Public Intoxication Case

If you’ve been charged with public intoxication, you may feel that the charge is too minor to fight, or that you have no defense to the claim. There is no criminal charge too minor to challenge when your reputation and criminal record is at stake. Further, you may have important defenses available to you that will result in a reduction or dismissal of the charge. At Keith B. French Law, our Pearland criminal lawyers will review your case from top to bottom and defend your rights accordingly. Contact us today for help.


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